Illness like a 'lioness' waiting to pounce

Last updated 12:00 30/05/2014

LIFE SUPPORT: Debbie Hunt, pictured on her wedding day, has a wonderful, understanding husband.

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I have lived with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) for as long as I can remember.

Some of the characteristics of BPD were evident in my early childhood, but the depth of the cracks did not start to become apparent until my early teenage years.

The diagnosis was requested by my parents when I was 13, but they were told they did not know what they were talking about. Mental illness was still taboo in the late 1990s.

I was 22 years old when the official diagnosis was finally delivered and the healing could begin. An illness cannot be cured or improved until it is recognised.

The phrase 'attention seeker' was a title I carried around all throughout my college years and even into my early 20s. It never hurt more than when it was used by people who should have known better.

BPD can lie dormant for years but it is always there. I am nearly 30 years old and every day I have to work hard to keep life on an even keel.

BPD is characterised by impulsive and unexplained self-destructive behaviour. While most people are wired to protect themselves, that link is missing for people living with BPD, and it has to be learned instead. It can easily be forgotten when life becomes difficult.

The symptoms of BPD are often triggered by a severe and often unrealistic fear of abandonment and/or rejection. It consumes your every waking moment and lies there, like a lioness ready to pounce.

To be diagnosed with BPD, a sufferer needs to have all but one of the following behaviours present for a period of at least two years:

- eating disorder

- self-harm

- suicidal tendencies

- unstable relationships

- addiction/impulsive habits

- anxiety

- chronic depression

A two-year period of having all but one of these behaviours present often rules out what people label as a phase that young people might go through, or a reaction to something that may have happened, or a cry for help.

Most people at one point or another will suffer one, if not most of these symptoms over their lifetime. But few people live with all of these symptoms on a daily basis - from childhood right through to adulthood.

I grew up as a part of an awesome family. My parents have always been incredibly supportive, from watching the plays that I forced my younger siblings to participate in at home, to holding a flannel over my forehead after my first major overdose.

They have taken time off work to just take me for a drive, not forcing me to talk, but just allowing me to cry in frustration.

The thing with BPD that I have learned, is that it is the ultimate betrayal.

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People betray us all the time. We are betrayed in small ways and at times in large ways. Family members that insist that any trouble in my life is brought on myself. Friends that turn on you because they no longer recognise you. Church leaders that shun anything that they consider in the too hard basket.

I have no control on the reactions, feelings, thoughts and actions of others.

The one person I can control is myself. So when it's my own body and my own mind that is betraying me, when I get a promotion at work and then quit my job on an impulse, when I finally save some money in the bank and then in an impulsive moment I spend it on silly things in one hit, when I want to live life to its fullest but the urges to pull the plug on life surface, when you are being assaulted but rather than scream or fight back your mind tells you that you deserve it and your body refuses to fight.

On the outside I look like any other person you might meet at the park, the sports club, church, an amusement park, but over the years BPD has robbed me of so much.

It has lead me into some very dangerous situations that have nearly cost me my life.

It has left me in a hospital bed after serious overdoses.

It has robbed me of jobs that I enjoyed, friends that I loved and opportunities I could have had.

Since being diagnosed I have been able to focus on healing, and learning to live with BPD without it controlling my every move. It takes daily work.

Sometimes I have outbursts and when I am overtired or overstressed I am too tired to fight it, so it gets a little control back over me.

I struggle with emotions; every emotion is felt to an extreme and though medication can help keep this more balanced, it is never going to be 'normal' and is always going to take hard work.

It is difficult to explain mental illness to those who have never suffered from it or seen the effects of it. I compare BPD to diabetes in that it is an illness that, if left untreated, can destroy you. However, if treated and managed daily, you can live a normal life.

I am nearly 30 years old. I am happily married to a wonderful, understanding and patient man. I have incredible friends who have stuck by my side, through weeks in hospital, nights where life hung in the balance between sanity and suicide, good times and bad.

Last year these same friends spent a weekend with me celebrating ten years since my lowest point in this journey.

I have a wonderful family. Though some people do not accept this illness, we still get along ok and as a family we have a lot of fun together. My parents have been wonderful. To this day they are among my dearest and most treasured friends.

BPD no longer characterises my life. It no longer has a tight control over me. But I am reminded of its presence daily.

It is an invisible illness until it is too late. When I look behind me I see a path of destruction that BPD has left in its wake. But when I look ahead, I see a bright and beautiful future, full of joy and sorrow, pain and freedom and ups and downs.

In other words, I see LIFE.

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